When it rains it pours in letters land.
As it turns out, my little experiment about sending the exact same gushy letter of praise to both Shape and Self simply could not have worked better. Here are the results:
It’s like a cosmic game of Telephone. I say something and then it appears two months later in completely different forms. If you recall, Self was the one that sent me several emails asking for confirmation and verification of information. They edited beyond recognition. Shape did not acknowledge the letter to editor at all (though they did send me an email about something else), yet they featured an intact letter with happy bold, orange (my favorite color) type.
I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that everyone, even magazines, wants love. And when they get it, they want to shout it from the rooftops.
OK, all two of you that read this will by now have noticed a rather long delay between posts here. I’m still trying to figure out where I want to be going with this. I think it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation with readership. Of course, any bloggy type person wants readers, but of course if any newspapery/magaziney editor type people became readers, they would (I think) be obligated not to print my letters.
The obviously solution, which several friends have suggested, is to write the letters to the editor under a pseudonym. That makes sense, of course, but I really don’t love that idea. Perhaps it’s pure narcissim, but much of the point of the blog was to see MY name in print, not a nom de plume. (And I have to say here that this is definitely the first time I’ve ever written nom de plume in a sentence. I like it. I’m going to try to do it more often.)
I’d like to go out and toot (or tweet) my horn about Mrs. Dogood, but I can’t see how that won’t eventually prevent me from ever getting any letters printed. If anyone has any brilliant ideas, I’m all ears.
Despite my recent lack of blog posting, I have actually been writing letters to the editor. These are some I’ve sent out lately …
I am fascinated by Nicholas Christakis, one of your picks for the Time 100. If his observation is correct, that happiness or despair can spread from person to person, then perhaps more of the world’s resources should be spent keeping Kevin Bacon happy. If he becomes depressed, then it’s curtains for all of us.
What I really wanted to write about was how as influential as many of the Time 100 may be, I, a fairly educated reader, have never heard of most of them … and what are the implications of that. But Joel Stein beat me to it. I love Joel Stein.
Because I was buying GQ, I felt obligated to buy Esquire as well. The May 2009 issue was all about how to be a man. An XY chromosome combo isn’t enough in their book. My letter was in response to THIS article which recounts all the manly things manly men do.
I hope Tom Chiarella realizes that if you replace the word “man” with the word “woman” his article works almost equally well. For example, “A woman looks out for those around her.” “A woman owns up.” “A woman doesn’t point out that she did the dishes.” “A woman has had enough liquor in her life that she can order a drink without sounding breathless.” I’m guessing that with the exception of having kung fu fantasies, Chiarella’s ideal woman has all the qualities of his ideal man, but with more curves and softer skin.
Well, maybe I’m a little ashamed to admit it. But this is what I wrote to Entertainment Weekly yesterday in response to THIS cover:
To the Editor:
I have been a devote EW reader since issue #1, but seeing Adam Lambert on cover was the first time I literally screamed with glee when I pulled the magazine out of the mailbox (and I may have done a little happy dance too). Adam rocks my entire universe. This 40-something mom doesn’t care whether he’s gay, straight, or attracted to aliens from Mars. I just want him to keep on singing.
You know what, I didn’t even embellish this one. I was flipping through the mail and actually did squeal and clap when I saw Adam on the cover. Glee just bubbled out of me. Glee, I tell you. I couldn’t help it.
I am insanely late to the American Idol party. It’s been going on since, like, the Stone Age, but I only started watching it this season. I have no idea what my problem was. I am happy to watch countless hours of television that is infinitely more mindless than AI. I think I couldn’t figure out why it would be necessary for this show to be on more than once a week. I was confused and slow. But now I’m addicted. I can’t even tell you how many hours I have wasted spent reading articles about the Idols, watching YouTube videos about the Idols, downloading songs, texting in votes, etc. Something was clearly missing in my life, because I sure as heck jumped right onto the AI bandwagon.
As for dear Adam … he scares me. In real life I’m much more of Kris girl, but Adam is so smokin hot, he deserves to win. Props to EW for giving Adam the love he deserves.
No luck with the last Times Magazine letter. I’m not keeping score anymore. (She says with a huff.)
On the plus side, Self reeeeally wants to make sure they are accurate when they print fawning praise about themselves. I got ANOTHER follow-up email from them yesterday:
I am fact-checking information for the YOURSELF page for Self magazine’s July issue. Please confirm/correct in CAPS and return as soon as you can. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
1. You recently picked up Self while waiting at the dentist.
2. Every tip is on-target, inspiring, and best of all, doable.
3. You nearly swiped the magazine, but instead you took the subscription card.
4. You can’t wait for your first issue.
Is it necessary to double check that I was bored waiting for a dentist appointment? I hope the fact-checker is an intern, otherwise Conde Nast has a little too much fat on it’s bones.
Oooh, it seems that the fitness mags are totally into my fawning praise. I just got this little note from Self:
Thank you for contacting Self Magazine. We are considering your comments for publication, and we’d like you to get back to us with your permission to use your:
1. complete name
…as you’d like them to appear in the magazine.
We’d greatly appreciate if you could provide us with your daytime telephone number in case our Research Department needs to contact you for any reason. (Your number will not be shared with anyone. It will solely be used for research purposes.)
Please keep in mind that there is always the possibility that your letter could be edited for clarity and/or space constraints, or excluded because of other last minute changes.
In the meantime, your comments have been forwarded to the appropriate editors, so you can be sure that your voice has been heard. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your interest in Self.
Interesting that they are exactly as easy and transparent as they appear to be.
The Newsweek auto-reply note is looooong. I’m just printing here the part that discusses letters to the editor. As for the rest, if you ever want to know how to change the address on your subscription, find a foreign language edition, or listen to Newsweek’s weekly radio show, then just drop them a line.
Thank you for contacting us. Since we receive hundreds of e-mail messages every week, we regret that we can’t answer each one personally. We do, however, read and consider all e-mail we receive. We appreciate your comments and consider your feedback vital to the continued excellence of Newsweek. Hopefully, the following answers to frequently asked questions will be helpful to you.
1. HOW DO I GET A LETTER PUBLISHED IN NEWSWEEK?
We receive over 1,000 faxes, e-mail messages and pieces of mail every week, most of it from readers responding to one of our stories. Because there is a premium on space in the Letters column, we can only publish a small number of these letters. Many good letters cannot be used simply because of the limited space available. In order to expedite the selection process, please include the DATE and TITLE of the article to which your letter refers in the subject-heading of your message. Please refrain from sending multiple copies of the same message. E-mail messages that do not address material printed in a recent issue of Newsweek are rarely considered for publication, nor are letters that are more than a paragraph or two. We cannot open e-mail attachments of any kind, and will not consider mass e-mails or letters sent to multiple addresses.
If your letter is considered for the Letters column and there are editing questions, we will contact you by phone. For this reason, it is important that you include a daytime phone number. It is also important that you include your city and state (or province and country), since we print that information under each letter writer’s name. We do not print e-mail addresses in our column. Newsweek reserves the right to edit all letters for space and clarity, and letters may appear in electronic versions of Newsweek.
Overall, I think it strikes the tone of a good college rejection letter. (Total aside — I read that the whole fat envelope / thin envelope mailbox anxiety is now a thing of the past. Apparently the rejections, and acceptances, first come via email. Another cultural artifact bites the dust.) Newsweek is firm (we only publish a few), but kind (many good letters can’t be used). AND they offer helpful tips on how to make it work better next time (keep it short, include your phone number). Maybe Newsweek is like the decent ex-boyfriend. A good guy who just happened to not be that into you.
Newsweek published an article called “Rebranding Hate in the Age of Obama.” Is this seriously a thing? The KKK is back in business? Sometimes I can’t believe that such division exists in this one country. Truly this was a thought provoking article. But wowsa did the photo editor do a lousy job.
This photo by Bruce Gilden took up nearly two full pages of the four page article:
The photographer will probably win some award, but if I’m quickly flipping through the magazine, I’m thinking this photo belongs with an article about a new WWII documentary. The images do not in any way communicate the immediacy and horror of learning that despite that we have an overwhelmingly popular black president there are still folks out there who would rather see him dead than respect our democracy.
Here’s the letter I wrote:
Eve Conant’s article about the resurgence of white supremacists was shocking and terrifying. The accompanying photos did not, however, serve the story well. The choice to print the photos in black and white, rather than in color, served to give them a nostalgic feel. The black and white photo of a boy with military-style shirt and a buzz cut looks like a shot from a history book. Color would have better demonstrated that this is a current problem with urgent consequences.
Really, is it just me?
So I did get some actual correspondence last week in response to something I sent a magazine. This is the letter I got:
Starting in August, each “You Tell Us” response we print will be accompanied
by a small photo of the reader who sent it in. Would you mind e-mailing a
picture of yourself (preferably a fairly close-up portrait) in case we
choose to run your reply? The higher the resolution/bigger the file size,
Also, would you mind sharing your age with us?
Thanks for reading!
- Shape editorial staff
I’m not sure whether this was an auto generated response or a reply from an editorial underling. But for the sake of maintaining a shred of personal dignity with regard to my letter writing campaign, I’m choosing to believe that an underling saw my sunscreen tip (post April 25) and decided that it struck exactly the right note of “well, duh” that Shape readers want to hear. I mean, they’re probably not asking for photos from everyone right?
This photo thing threw me into a total tizzy. I have nearly 60,000 photos residing on my computer right now. 60,000. I am in perhaps 200 of them, Maybe 75 of those were taken in the last three years (a semi-reasonable amount of time to call a photo recent). Guess how many of those 75 are of only me? Two. That’s right, two. Both of which are owned by WDW, and are thus not usable by me. There are maybe 10 photos of me overall that I don’t seriously hate, all of which also include at least one child and/or large costumed Disney character. So I decided it would be OK to crop out the child and/or character that appear in one of these - not an easy task when said child and/or character has his/her hands all over you.
I did end up with one tiny photo that I only moderately dislike, that looks like I actually use sunscreen. I sent it to them and we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out how to get some decent photos of myself.
The April 26, 2009 New York Times Magazine includes a story by Virginia Heffernan called, “Comment is King: Reader Comments Are A Key Part of Online Journalism. So Why Do They Mostly Disappoint.” I’ve decided to take this article to mean that I am on the cutting edge of the commentary zeitgeist, seeing as I wrote about both Virginia Heffernan and reader comments within the past few weeks.
(By the way, my April 5 letter about Heffernan’s iPhone problem did not get published. That makes Mrs. Dogood - 0, Editors - 4. Grrrr. I’m taking solace in the fact that no one else’s letters about this article were published either.)
Despite her preference for Blackberries, I have to give Heffernan props for pointing out what I see as a major problem with online reader comments: they suck. People are uninformed or they can’t make complete sentences or they’re prejudiced or they’re just plain mean. In theory, I like the idea that everyone is allowed a voice. But in practice, too many voices means that none are heard. It’s like those Malcolm Gladwell-esque experiments they do in supermarkets. Present people with a choice of six flavors of jam and they’re perfectly happy to select their favorite and go buy it. Present people with a choice of 30 flavors of jam and they get brain freeze and leave the store, sans purchase. I don’t have the time or energy to wade through 200 incoherent reader responses to find the three that might really rock my world, or even the world at large. Some are indeed more equal than others; we need editors to find them.
Heffernan does me a great service by giving name to more categories of reader commentary:
- Amens: I agree and THANK YOU for saying what I’ve always known
- Scolding dissent (as opposed to cogent dissent)
- Fact-checking: Long, itemized point by point, deconstructions
- Reiterations: Repeating the points of an article in slightly varied way
These are the comment types that a strong newspaper editor wouldn’t print. Conversely, these are the key letter types that are printed in featurey or specialty magazines. For example, those published in GQ, Shape or Self. (And in those cases, there are at least editors to highlight the letters that are written in complete sentences.) I suppose one way to identify a serious publication from a fluff publication is to count the prevalence of letters published that are Amens, Scolds, Fact-checks, or Reiterations.
Here are two excerpts from the Heffernan article that I’ll be thinking about in the days to come:
This echo-chamber effect is unpleasant, and it makes it hard to keep listening for the clearer, brighter, rarer voices nearly drowned out in the online din. Which is too bad: newspaper journalism benefits from reader comments. Creating registration standards, inventive means of moderating and displaying comments, membership benefits for regular posters and ratings systems for useful comments are just some of the ways that other news outlets like Slate have improved the quality of reader responses.
The pluralistic contention of the 1990s that everyone “deserves a voice” has come to terrifying life in the past 10 years on blogs, message boards and now Twitter. Everyone is published! But please, aim for originality and brevity when you post, and read what has already been posted. For models of the form, Slate’s Fray still can’t be beat (fray.slate.com/discuss).
This is the letter that I sent to the Times Magazine:
Heffernan’s observations are the reason why I read the letters in the New York Times print edition, but not the comments in the online version. When you write to the Times in print, you are required to supply your full name as a way of accountability for your words. But people can, and will, say anything online no matter how vituperative, condescending, or just plain silly, because they are allowed to do so with blind user names and pseudonyms. Requiring writers to properly identify themselves would go a long way to clearing out the clutter in the comments.